Costa Mesa to consider $4 hourly ‘hero pay’ for grocery workers during pandemic

A cashier helps a customer at the checkout stand in the Vons grocery store in Long Beach.
A cashier in December at the checkout stand in the Vons grocery store in Long Beach, which has passed a $4 hazard pay bonus to store employees. Costa Mesa will consider a similar measure Tuesday.
(File Photo)

The Costa Mesa City Council will consider Tuesday the plight of grocery store employees — many of whom have faced additional hazards during the coronavirus pandemic — in a discussion on whether to offer “hero pay” for workers inside city limits.

Although no formal action is expected to taken on the matter this week, council members, some of whom requested it be addressed at the city level, will weigh the merits of potentially adopting an urgency ordinance to provide frontline grocery workers an additional $4 per hour over their existing hourly pay for a 120-day period.

City employees said in a staff report an ordinance would address the disparity in working conditions and wages for grocery store employees, deemed essential workers and briefly granted additional compensation in the early days of the pandemic that has since dried up.

Should a proposal be approved, Costa Mesa would be following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions that have approved temporarily bolstering employees’ take-home pay.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a Feb. 23 vote approved $5 per hour for employees of publicly traded grocery store or retail drug companies in unincorporated L.A. County, or companies with at least 300 employees nationwide and more than 10 employees per store.

Grocery story hero pay debate
Long Beach, Los Angeles and Irvine have recently passed ordinances to pay essential grocery workers an additional hazard pay during the pandemic. Costa Mesa will discuss such a move on Tuesday.
(File Photo)

Long Beach passed $4 pay bump that took effect Jan. 22. Members of the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 during a Feb. 24 meeting to boost grocery workers’ hourly pay by $5 for 120 days. Similar proposals were passed in Irvine, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Oakland and Berkeley.

The California Grocers Assn. has taken legal steps to overturn hero pay, going as far as filing lawsuits against several cities. Grocery retailer Kroger announced Feb. 1 — less than two weeks after Long Beach’s ordinance went into effect — it would close two retail locations inside the jurisdiction.

Large grocery chains aren’t the only ones crying foul over hero pay provisions. Kathryn Barger, a supervisor for Los Angeles County’s 5th District and the lone Republican on the board, cast the lone dissenting vote against the pay increase.

“Stores can pass on additional labor costs to the public through price increases,” Barger said in a Feb. 23 statement following the vote. “They may also reduce the hours of the impacted workers or decrease the number of employees that they hire.”

A widely cited report by the Brookings Institution studied the profits of the three largest grocery providers — Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons — and found that together they earned an additional $6.8 billion in profit in the first three quarters of 2020 compared with 2019 — an average increase of 98%, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.